[Smt-talk] Audio Disability Question

Darryl White darryl.musico at gmail.com
Fri Oct 3 07:13:06 PDT 2014

Amy Bauer wrote:

We have a very hard-working, gifted young pianist who cannot pass her aural
skills sequence. She has bronchial pulmonary dispasia (which affects her
ability to sight-sing). But her primary issue is almost total deafness in
her left ear. She struggled for a long while to understand why she had
absolutely no problems with speech or understanding speech, but had
difficulty reproducing and recognizing pitch height. According to a recent
research paper she shared with me, we use our left ears almost exclusively
for that purpose, while using the right ear to decipher speech and
syntactical relationships.

I suffered a TBI when I was 12 years old (car accident) which left me
completely deaf in my left ear. It was about this time that I began to
study music, beginning with guitar lessons. I had difficulties with sight
singing when I first began university music study but I attributed this
most of all to not being a singer and never having tried it before.

I have never had the experience of dealing with a student who for medical
reasons could not meet the aural skills requirement, but it must be
possible. Students may be undiagnosed and neither they nor their teachers
be aware. Perhaps so called 'tone-deaf' students get discouraged by
themselves and others so that they self de-select from our courses and
majors and perhaps that's why we don't encounter this more.

I became a decent sight singer and have taught aural skills for years. I
went on to sing professionally and this certainly helped. My relative pitch
recognition is pretty good. I've never heard of research about the tasking
of right-left auditory channels, although it does make some sense. What I
do know, because I have had to grapple with it, is that the brain can
re-wire--given enough time and effort. Of course, this is not likely to
happen over the course of a theory sequence, but I would council patience
with these students and would encourage them to challenge their own
disabilities as I have done with mine. The only regret I have as a monaural
musician is that I will never hear stereo (not unless we somehow become
able to repair destroyed auditory nerves in the brain).

All the best,


Darryl White
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Arizona
School of Music
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